Wychwood Circle – a gymnasium of the imagination

Psychotherapists, counsellors and others interested in mental health as well as spirituality may have spotted some interesting speakers at Wychwood Circle this autumn. After mindfulness in September, in November we had author Guy Stagg who has suffered with serious mental illness and who, as a non-believer, decided to undertake the 5,500km ‘pilgrimage’ from Canterbury to Jerusalem: he hiked alone, on ancient paths and busy routes, relying on the generosity of strangers all the way. The result is ‘The Crossway’ (Picador 2018), which mixes travel and memoir and where he (guystagg.co.uk) tells of his walk towards recovery and – a big question for us – ‘asks whether religion can still have meaning for those without faith.’

After over seven years of regular monthly meetings Wychwood Circle will take a break in 2020 but before that we have a third visit from Dr Mark Vernon (www.markvernon.com), a psychotherapist and the author of ‘How to be an Agnostic’, ‘Wellbeing’, and, just published, ‘A Secret History of Christianity’. His new book is largely about Owen Barfield – friend of JR Tolkien and C S Lewis – and focusses on the importance of imagination within the evolution of consciousness over the centuries, and thereby to the place of poetry as well as spirituality in a fully-rounded appreciation of the world. His critique of contemporary Christianity is that it has lost touch with the mysticism which should be at its centre. Join us on December 8th, 7pm at the Village Hall.

Churches should be called ‘gymnasiums of the imagination’, Mark Oakley, Dean of St John’s, Cambridge, and an illustrious past visitor to the Wychwoods, recently suggested. One hopes that our many topics at Wychwood Circle, from postmodern philosophy of religion to the spirituality of mindfulness and from walking a labyrinth to exploring poetry, have given us all some much-needed mental exercise over the years.

David Soward

December 2019-January 2020